The cloud isn't the only new place you will be seeing Ubuntu in the future. You will soon be able to run it on your phone, games console or any device powered by an ARM processor.

Back in November, Canonical and ARM announced they will be bringing the full Ubuntu desktop operating system to ARM processors. The press release stated "The Ubuntu ARM distribution for desktops and netbooks will be officially available from April 2009." A logical conclusion: Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope) should become the first release with commercial support for the ARM.

What exactly is an ARM?

ARM processors are increasingly found in many mobile consumer electronics devices including smart phones, hand-held games consoles and some netbooks. The ARM processors are chosen for these devices due to their low power usage, giving them an increased battery life.
Current releases of Ubuntu are only supported on 32 and 64 bit x86 processors produced by Intel and AMD so the addition of support for ARM processors will allow Ubuntu to be run on a whole new range of devices for the first time.

With sales of Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs) expected to continue to grow, if and when Ubuntu is officially released with ARM support, this may drive manufacturers of these devices to opt for using the cheaper, more power efficient ARM-based chips over Intel's rival Atom range of processors. Currently the biggest advantage to using the Intel chip is that it can run any current x86 software with little or no modifications - software has to be specifically compiled to run on an ARM processor.

Making Progress

Since the initial announcement, not much has been said about this potential watershed in Ubuntu development. It doesn't even get a mention in the Jaunty release notes, but through my own investigation I found that 99% of the packages available in Jaunty for the amd64 architecture have been ported to ARM already and are available now in the Ubuntu ports repository along with installers for some specific platforms.

During my investigating I found that there was an installer available for the NAS (Network Attached Storage) drive that I have on my network. The drive just sits on the network at present as backup storage and it made me think about what I could do with this static device if it ran Ubuntu. It could be so much more than just a hard drive. I could use it as an email server, install SVN and use it as a code repository for my software projects. There would be so many possibilities available from freeing this one device by installing Ubuntu on it.

I can only imagine what is going to be possible when I can install Ubuntu all of my other electronic devices and free them as well.


Contributing blogger Guy Thouret is a software engineer for a wireless energy management system company. He has used various GNU/Linux distributions since 2002.
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